‘Optimistic about economic opportunities in Bangladesh’

AKM Moinuddin
Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Ambassador Rene Holenstein


Swiss Ambassador Holenstein begins Bangladesh journey with three priorities.


There is hardly another country with as many museums per person as Switzerland. Switzerland is also a country of music lovers, a fact which is reflected in the many clubs, festivals and concerts. Rene Holenstein, newly appointed Ambassador of Switzerland to Bangladesh, and a big fan of rock music talked to Dhaka Courier exclusively on various aspects of relations between Bangladesh and Switzerland.


The year 2017 marks the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Bangladesh. Culture has been an important element for Switzerland and Bangladesh during the 45 years of relationship. Keeping it in mind, the Embassy of Switzerland, in collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh, celebrated the 45th anniversary last week.


Talking to Dhaka Courier at his office on November 7, Ambassador Holenstein, also the author of several books that give voice to prominent people in various countries, said he is here with three priorities.


The first priority is to strengthen bilateral, political and diplomatic relations with Bangladesh; second is development cooperation and working both with the government of Bangladesh and people to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) with their development cooperation. The third priority, Ambassador Holenstein said, is to strengthen bilateral economic relations between the two countries and contribute to growing Bangladesh economy.


Switzerland has been a committed and longstanding partner of Bangladesh introducing innovative ideas and solutions over the years.


“Our journey started 45 years ago with humanitarian assistance,” the Swiss Ambassador said adding that slowly and steadily the two countries established deep political, cultural and economic relations.


The Swiss Ambassador said the economic relations between the two countries, in general, has developed positively over the last few years. “Our trade has been more than doubled since 2010. Major Swiss companies are currently present in Bangladesh. This is very encouraging. It is also encouraging to see more and more SMEs are coming to Bangladesh.”


Asked about Swiss investment in Bangladesh, he said they have seen a 17 percent rise in investment last year. The trade volume stood at $600 million last year with 16 percent growth while the trade volume doubled since 2010.


“I am fully aware that our trade relations are not yet at optimum level. We can contribute much more,” said the Ambassador.


He said Switzerland can promote innovative technologies, particularly  green technologies and this would be a contribution to Bangladesh’s development.


Responding to a question on investment climate, he said, “Yes, I have heard some concerns. However, I am impressed while talking to business people, specially representatives of Swiss companies about their positive experiences. Many people are optimistic about economic opportunities in Bangladesh.”


“Of course there are some issues that require further improvement,” Ambassador Holenstein said mentioning infrastructure and administrative procedures.


The Ambassador, however, expressed satisfaction over the security measures taken for the foreigners and foreign investors in the country.


“The government has done great a job. There has been a lot of progress. This needs continuous attention,” Ambassador Holenstein said.


The Swiss Ambassador laid emphasis on skill development, improving local governance and ensuring safe migration system in Bangladesh and assured of Swiss support in these areas.


Expressing his views on next national election in Bangladesh, Ambassador Holenstein said, “As a friend of Bangladesh I hope that the election will be fair, transparent and inclusive.”


He said a favorable and safe conditions need to be in place so that everybody takes part in the election.


“Election Commission has been doing a lot of consultations with political parties, civil societies and private sectors. We welcome this inclusive approach,” Ambassador Holenstein said adding that they are also closely following what the UN is doing in terms of support.


With more than 609,000 Rohingyas now in Bangladesh, the international agencies and partners are working on several fronts to support and protect them to avoid second wave of disaster – outbreak of various diseases.


“We are very much concerned about the humanitarian situation,” Ambassador Holenstein, who has visited the Rohingya camps twice since his arrival in Dhaka, said.


He extended his government’s thanks to government of Bangladesh for its generosity and accepting so many people. “People’s solidarity is also something extraordinary.”

The Swiss Ambassador said the main goal is to make sure that these people can return safely and with dignity and voluntarily. “We have not yet achieved that goal. We will continue our efforts. We are absolutely beside Bangladesh.”


The international community came together in Geneva on October 23 to mobilise funds to support the humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis. Given the extent of this humanitarian crisis, Switzerland has decided to increase its financial contribution to CHF 8 million.


The Humanitarian Aid Department of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has already donated almost half this sum to operations run by UNHCR, IOM, WFP and various NGOs.


Almost 1.8 million foreign nationals live in Switzerland which is 24.3 percent of the total population.


Asked behind the reason, the Ambassador said Switzerland has always been an immigration-friendly country and many international organizations are there where foreigners are working.


Ambassador Holenstein, who speaks German, French, Spanish, English and Russian, said he is a great fan of rock music. “I love music, particularly rock music. I love Bangladeshi music, too,” he said appreciating performance of Bangladeshi band Chirkut. “I loved that kind of music. I used to play drums. I can sing.”


Ambassador Holenstein said he is impressed by the eagerness of Bangladeshi people to learn, innovate and try new things.


“You have incredible capacity to cope with setbacks and crisis. People are very resilient and know how to address difficult challenges,” he said.

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